I remember a few years back going to a different church than I go to now and hearing a message about being pruned. I specifically remember it because even back then I knew I was already being cut back. But not in the kind of way where a plant still looks like a plant but just cleaned up from unruly branches or weeds–more like when you go to the salon and think you were clear in asking for a quick trim only to walk out with your hair half the length you started with. Something that you didn’t ask for, desire, or expect. At that time friendships I had were dying out, I was suffering with unemployment, I was struggling with how things were going and what I thought about myself, I wasn’t writing anything creative at all, and optimism in general was being snuffed out.
The Bible actually talks about pruning in John 15 when Jesus refers to himself as the Vine and His people as the branches:
1-3 “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.
4 “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
I know this passage very well just from being raised in Sunday school and hearing it a number of times growing up in church. But lately I find myself really torn by it. Over the course of my 20s I’ve given up so many things I actually cared about:
- A relationship I felt God was calling me away from–even though it ended up ultimately being for my own good it was still an incredibly painful few years of a recovery,
- A dream–of writing, having a career involving writing
- A core group of friends–ever since high school and a loss of a particular close group of friends I found myself never quite in one group of friends or another and often felt really alone, out of place, and unwanted
- etc etc etc.
Even though most of these things could still be in preparation for something greater it’s been years and I am still here waiting to see that regrowth.
In His Word God promises that if I abide in him, He will not leave my side. Then why is it that even though I am consistently trying to draw closer to Him despite my confusion and pain I feel more like the branch that has been thrown out to the fire than the one that’s supposed to be churning out grapes left and right?
Why do I feel so barren and broken?
Why do I feel so depressed and hopeless?
Why do I know in my Spirit that Jesus has not left me and loves me but in my mind and deep in my heart I still feel last on the priority list and forever ruined by all that has been removed from me?
I am writing this entry today after many 12 hour work days, after tears at my desk, after about six panic attacks this week from stress, after looking in the mirror at my unpleasantly thin figure from weight loss, and almost crippling sadness and grief. I do not feel my harvest and I do not see the purpose.
And yet strangely enough the weaker I get the more I can sense the shears coming out again to cut me down. Another new project at work, someone from church’s harsh words about my season being reflective of something I must have done wrong, or another subtle eye roll when you share another hard work week with a friend and you can tell they are tired of hearing about it. How much more can you be cut back …right?
I actually Googled pruning tonight when I got home hoping to find some additional inspiration for this and came across something someone else in the universe wrote about this topic:
The first thing that stuck out to me was this:
“God just sees that we can bear more fruit…that we have more potential for greatness, so he wants to get our plans and ideas out of the way so He can bless us with His plan for our lives.”
I instantly connected with that part because it’s exactly how I feel and exactly how I do not feel all at once. I do not feel at all like I have the potential for greatness right now. I feel bitter, I sound bitter, I am angry and sad mixed together most of the time, more so than happy or hopeful or optimistic. I don’t feel like my fruit is anything worth eating right now either. In my mind it would be bruised or mealy, or otherwise unpleasant to look at or taste. But then you get to the part about Him wanting to cut out our ideas and plans out of the way so he can plant His own stuff and I get it. I feel it. It’s like a sharp pang in my chest and I know it’s true. I had wonderful plans and ideas of who I could be, or what my life would be like. And to a certain extent I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming about being a writer, or having a great marriage, or going on adventures or whatever, but when those things continued to die leaf by leaf off of my branch it’s like I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Who I was anymore. And that’s kind of pathetic.
Most of my deep despair lately is feeling completely lost. Like everything I believed I was made to be like or do has not panned out. It’s like someone pulled the plug and I’m all shriveled up now with no idea how to plump back up. As stupid as they might sound I really do feel that way. I’m totally lost. I feel like I’m stuck in this career purgatory, I still feel like I’m watching people in great friendships for example and while I know people care for me, it’s not the deep I want to hang out with you all the time and talk to you kind of friendships. There are so many things my heart yearns for and yet it’s like everyone has long settled in to these things and I’m still trying to sort out which map I should use next.
But what really hit me was this:
“I’ll never forget what a minister once told me during a very difficult time in my life. He said: “Wow, Elizabeth…God must be impressed with you to allow you to go through something this difficult at such a young age. I was 47 before God thought I could handle something that heavy. He must really have big plans for you!” This man’s words to me totally changed my perspective about what I was going through, and I hung on to those words throughout that trial.”
And when I say I folded my laptop down and ran into the bathroom to take a shower and cry..I’m dead serious. Why? Because of the phrase “God must be impressed with you to allow you to go through something this difficult at such a young age”. It breaks my heart because I don’t believe it. I don’t feel it in my heart. Maybe over the years with all of the hardships I’ve endured, betrayals, feelings of insignificance, failure, disappointments I’ve allowed this rejection into my life. Like how could God possibly be impressed with me? Maybe once upon a time. But now? I feel like a total failure. I feel discouraged by my lifetime of Christianity only to feel like a total newbie when this wilderness surrounded me. How can He trust me when I feel like I don’t even know or really like what I’m seeing in myself right now?
It’s hard for me to believe this suffering will ever cease or that I will come out joyful on the other side but God does promise good for those He loves. It’s easy sometimes to accept the pruning of bad things out of our lives, or to accept Jesus taking all of our sin away, and other kinds of good housekeeping. But He is a constant gardener in my life, even when you think you have been groomed enough—especially when He starts to amputate limbs that you thought were healthy and even more so when He starts jabbing at the already painful infected bits. Have you ever had someone rub against a wound or poke a bruise? It’s like that. It might ultimately be for your recovery but it is the worst pain you have ever felt.
I do aspire to see this period of darkness with Ephesians 5:26-27 eyes where it says through this process “Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.” And you know what? I want to be made whole.